Public Comment Period Opens for Import of Wild-caught Beluga Whales

Canada, London
On 15th June, the Georgia Aquarium applied to the NOAA for a permit to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia. File No. 17324 has now been opened up to public comment in the Federal Register, and it is likely to be one of the most contested permits ever.

The submitted application for an MMPA (Marine Mammal Protection Act) permit requests authorization to import 18 beluga whales from the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia, to the United States for the entertainment industry.

According to the permit application, the belugas were previously captured from the Russian Sea of Okhotsk by Utrishskiy dolphinarium. ‘Utrish’, as it is commonly called, is a facility that supplies wild marine mammals to facilities around the world, and it has contributed to making the Russian Federation one of the largest suppliers of sea animals in the world.

Marine mammal protection group, Marine Connection, says of the animals captured come from the Black Sea.

The 18 belugas that Georgia Aquarium wishes to import, will officially and legally be held by the Georgia Aquarium, who will transport them to other U.S. partner facilities under breeding loan agreements. These facilities are Sea World of Florida, Sea World of Texas, Sea World of California, Shedd Aquarium and possibly, Mystic Aquarium.

Backed by an International Union for Conservation of Nature sustainability study called the Beluga Project, these display facilities would have the public believe that the import is critical to conserving beluga populations in the wild.

What the aquaria won’t openly tell you, is that the IUCN study was collectively sponsored by Ocean Park Corporation, Hong Kong; Georgia Aquarium Inc., Atlanta, USA; Sea World Parks and Entertainment, USA; Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration, Connecticut, USA and Kamogawa Sea World, Japan.

Nor will they expand too much on the company behind the captures, how these whales were captured and why Georgia Aquarium is turning to Russia to restock America’s captive beluga population.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), while capturing marine animals in US waters with a permit is legal, it states that marine mammals must be captured by a method considered “humane”.

Due to mammal size, pod structure, and close social bonds, these mammals must be forced (driven) into shallow areas. According to the IUCN study, the capture teams target small groups of belugas passing near shore and slowly force the seined whales into shallow waters.

The video shows the brutality involved in captures. Georgia Aquarium’s permit application also has little to do with conserving the species and has everything to do with breeding belugas for captivity and so-called, ‘petting pools’.

According to Ceta-Base.com, an online inventory of captive marine mammals, SeaWorld San Diego has lost an estimated 17 belugas over the years, all of them wild caught. The park now has just five belugas left, four wild caught, and one born in captivity.

SeaWorld San Antonio: 16 belugas deceased, nine of those wild caught; the remainder were born and then died in captivity. Many of the captive-born lived from a few months to a few years. Only one made it to the ripe old age of 7 years, a mere child in beluga terms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA), states that longevity for belugas in the wild is around 35-50 years, although other scientists have argued it is higher even than that.

SeaWorld Texas houses 8 belugas, 4 of them wild caught, 4 born in captivity. Historically, seven belugas born into captivity at Texas have died.

SeaWorld Orlando meanwhile, houses 4 belugas, all captive born and transported in from SeaWorld Texas or Marineland of Canada. Historically, three belugas have died, two of them wild caught. The third was a captive birth and died at 4 years of age after suffering gastric torsion from ingesting a lead weight.

Please go to the Federal Register and file your objection to this proposal. You can submit comments identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158, by any of the following methods:

Online: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: Regulations.gov.
 

Post: Submit written comments to:

Chief, Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources
NOAA Fisheries
1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705
Silver Spring, MD 20910
U.S

Fax: 301-713-0376; Attn: Jennifer Skidmore.
 

The public comment period will be opened until October 29, 2012.


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